Regional News

Santa Rosa professor and son restore fire-ravaged photos hoping to connect with owners

October 27, 2017 4:33 pm
POSTED: OCT 26 2017 10:28AM PDT

UPDATED: OCT 26 2017 03:21PM PDT

SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Homes, furniture, clothing and much of the “stuff” of people’s lives were erased off the planet when the devastating wildfires ripped through Northern California this month.

But some tangible things survived. A wedding ring. A clay pot made in kindergarten. And amazingly, an unknown number of paper photographs, greeting cards, report cards and refrigerator artwork also made it through the fires, albeit with brown, scorched edges, found in backyards and on back country roads.

Santa Rosa Junior College Computer Studies Chair Donald Laird, 51, and his son, Sutter, 19, are focused on the latter. They are volunteering to be a central clearinghouse for any type of image or art found after the fire and then getting those materials back to their rightful owners. While Laird is working with former students to restore the images – one of the classes he teaches; his son has created a website to house them.

So far, they’ve collected at least two dozen images, spanning from a 1950s photo of two women in front of a U-Haul truck to a book report of written by a boy named Jason who ready Capyboppy by Bill Peet. (He got an “excellent” from Ms. B.)

“Memories come in all sorts of forms,” Laird said on Thursday. “But this may be all they have left.”

People in Sonoma and Napa counties are slowly hearing about Laird’s project and bringing him photographs. One person found photos on a back country road halfway to Sebastopol. Another walked in with a bag full of assorted images. Others have found the scorched paper on front lawns and sidewalks.

Laird said he can tell that that these materials blew across town from the Tubbs Fire, not only because they are torn at the edges, charred by fire, but because of some of their addresses. Someone wrote Lolly Nickerson, who lives in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood, a postcard from Moran State Park in Washington. Coffey Park was one of the hardest hit neighborhoods during the fire.

Laird is hoping this small act can reconnect people with their pasts.

“I wish I could do more,” Laird said. “But this is a way I can leverage my expertise to help.”

If you find a photo scorched by wildfire, please mail the actual image to Donald Laird at Santa Rosa Junior College, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa, Calif. 95401. You can email him at To see the photos, click here. If you see a photo that looks like yours, note the four-digit ID number and contact Laird. He’ll arrange to get the original returned to you.